After a few hours spent in its gorgeous universe, it soon became clear that Harvestella is one of those titles that is more than a mere videogame, feeling akin to actually having a second job to perform in your leisure time. You see, not only do you have a classic action JRPG going on, there is a farming sim, a time cycle to consider, nutrition, crafting, fishing, side quests and dungeons, plus you have to save the entire goddamn world.
Thankfully, due to the enjoyable way it is implemented, Square Enix just about stick the landing to form a mostly cohesive whole.
You kick things off with the time-honoured RPG cliché of amnesia-addled protagonist becoming drawn into a plot involving magical crystals and impending doom. You can pick your gender and design your pawn using the relatively limited options available. You set up shop on the outskirts of town and are drip fed the various mechanics that make the Harvestella world go around. You work within a thirty-day cycle in which you need to become a veritable anime Mr Fothergill, raising all manner of crops which vary according to your experience level and the time of season. Eventually you are given a faerie recipe book that allows you to craft all manner of foodstuffs. These recipes are important as they are crucial to progression in the action sections, but ticking off dishes also unlocks upgrades to your farm and farming equipment, in turn making you a more effective and efficient farmer. Eventually after upgrading your gaff you even get to keep livestock – namely the winsome Cluffowl and Woolum. Not only are they adorbs, but they are also a staggeringly effective way of making some sweet side hustle cash, thanks to their eggs and milk.
The action sections are arguably the most enjoyable and impressive part of the package. Your avatar travels between the several charming towns, interacting with the many NPC denizens, and in turn learning new recipes, stuff to farm, and side quests. Dungeons are done against the clock, and generally speaking cannot be done in one run as you become exhausted and conk out at midnight. You have to plan each dungeon crawl wisely, ensuring that you take the right combo of food and drink with you to maintain stamina. Combat is not a complex beast, but the ability to change classes or “jobs” on the fly makes it interesting and allows you to pick the best and most effective way of dispatching enemies. Evasive techniques can be unlocked on each job skill tree – however it is a far from effective dash manoeuvre which when combined with the lack of a block means that defensively you are left a tad exposed. Thankfully things aren’t too difficult to negotiate. Boss battles are fun and not too demanding. It is all a bit of a lesson in button bashing, with cooldown periods between attacks, and a focus on exploiting enemies’ elemental weaknesses. Think Xenoblade-lite and you are just about there.
There is a lot of talky, textual RPG 101 sections to negotiate. Weirdly there is no voice acting other than a few cursory expository inclusions here and there. Good job the music is a warm, cuddly Uematsu-lite treat. As formulaic as the main plot is, there is also a distinct undercurrent of melancholy at play with some maudlin, heartstring-tugging sub-plots amidst the RPG bluster.
Where Harvestella falls down is the strict adherence to the timer. It ticks away constantly, even when you are playing side quests. Having to repeatedly return to dungeons will grate on some – although you can unlock teleportation and waypoints, and even add bridges and ladders to shorten the distance you have to travel. Some may also baulk at the performance in the looks department. The 2D artwork is utterly sublime, and the game generally looks easy on the eye, however some sections – in particular the world map – are curiously blurry.
If you can overlook these issues, and are a fan of stuff like Rune Factory, Stardew Valley or even the slept-on Level 5 title Fantasy Life – the latter a definite kindred spirit in terms of its JRPG tropes, action, farming and jobs – then you will get a lot out of Harvestella.
Loads of variety
Cool class systems
Fun to play
Plate spinning may overwhelm some
Could do with voice acting
Battle quite simplistic